The first Scouting Notebook of 2014 comes with the NFL's regular season completed and only a handful of college bowl games left to be played. Ready or not, the offseason is fast approaching. It's time to get ready for months of analysis regarding free agents and the upcoming 2014 draft class.
Speaking of the 2014 draft, we're already seeing a solid group of underclassmen entering this year's crop. Top names like Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville) and Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina) made their entries official this week, and we can safely expect other top juniors like Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson) to soon follow their lead.
There's a lot to get to this week, so let's get started.
Five Up, Five Down
5. RB Charles Sims, West Virginia
We highlighted the play of running back Charles Sims a few weeks back, but the more I watch of him, the more impressive his grade becomes. Sims is the ideal NFL running back for today's blend of offenses. He's big enough to run between the tackles but has the elusive shake to get into space and make plays.
Where Sims really wins you over is as a receiver—both out of the backfield and split out in the slot. With Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey gone to the NFL, Sims emerged as arguably West Virginia's best receiving option. Given his running ability and contributions as a receiver, Sims looks like a Day 1 NFL starter to me.
4. FS Calvin Pryor, Louisville
A junior entry into the 2014 NFL draft, familiarize yourself with Calvin Pryor before the bandwagon gets full.
Pryor has range for days, showing the cut-and-explode ability to turn and attack the ball in flight. Pryor (6'2", 208 pounds) also has the size to come up inside the box and take on the run. What impresses me most, though, is his all-areas ability to attack the ball. As a zone-coverage safety—taking deep thirds or halves—his speed and instincts will be a major asset.
Pryor has the ability to start from his first day as a pro safety.
3. CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
Darqueze Dennard is part of the Michigan State "No Fly Zone" secondary, and as the best pro prospect of the group, he's lived up to that nickname.
Dennard is an aggressive cover man both at the line of scrimmage and down the field. He uses his hands well to redirect wide receivers off the ball and then uses one hand to ride the receiver down the field. Dennard rides the hip pocket and has shown the speed to stick with receivers down the field. He's also proven his instincts and can jump routes or attack the ball.
Dennard may have to learn to better hide his hand-checks in the NFL—where penalties are called more often—but his footwork and aggressiveness are pro-ready.
2. DE/LB Trent Murphy, Stanford
I tweeted during the Rose Bowl that while Trent Murphy may not test well athletically, he's the type of player I want on my football team. What does that mean?
Murphy isn't a quick-twitch athlete, to use an older reference. He won't blow scouts away with straight-line speed or jaw-dropping explosiveness, but he's a smart technician who uses his hands well to disengage from blockers. Watch Murphy against Michigan State and you'll see No. 93 using his hands to chop down the punch of blockers and then accelerate to get into the backfield. That's a veteran NFL pass-rushing move, and Murphy is already showing strong use of it.
1. QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Teddy Bridgewater showed, on a national stage, why he's the best quarterback in the 2014 draft class. Above that, he proved once again that he's the most NFL-ready quarterback in all of college football right now.
Bridgewater's grade won't go up based on one game—and no player's will—but this was a statement game for Bridgewater against a fast Miami defense. The Louisville quarterback showed touch, poise in the pocket, good mobility to stretch and make plays with his feet and the total-field accuracy you need from a passer.
There will be some who don't like Bridgewater, for whatever reason, but I'm standing my ground on him being the No. 1 overall player in this year's class.
5. ILB Max Bullough, Michigan State
While Michigan State was celebrating the biggest win of its season, inside linebacker Max Bullough was back in Michigan.
It wouldn't be fair to judge Bullough's absence without knowing the details, but a suspension for the biggest game of the year carries some weight. And his actions that caused him to miss the Rose Bowl do too. An inside linebacker is often a captain on defense and a leader in the huddle when making play calls and shifts pre-snap. Your defensive leader cannot be irresponsible enough to get himself suspended for the Rose Bowl.
It's easy to say this is an isolated incident and may never be a factor in the NFL, but it's definitely a concern leading into the offseason.
4. WR Brandon Coleman, Rutgers
As the wide receiver crop increases due to junior entries, Brandon Coleman's projected draft slot continues to drop.
The big Rutgers wide receiver didn't enjoy his best season in 2013. Some of that can be chalked up to bad quarterback play, but Coleman also didn't show the same level of explosiveness or aggression in his routes this fall. At 6'6" and 220 pounds, teams will respect what Coleman can do against off-coverage and in space, but he's a more limited player than a Sammy Watkins or Allen Robinson because of his lack of speed and flexibility.
3. CB Marcus Roberson, Florida
The line on Marcus Roberson is that he's simply not interested in playing the run. You could extend that and say, comfortably, that he doesn't like contact and isn't a tackler and you'd still be accurate. Roberson is a gifted athlete, and I like his speed and hips in space, but he's so timid when asked to come up and play the ball.
That's not the mark of a starting NFL cornerback unless he's one of the most talented cover men in the game. And Roberson doesn't flash that ability to me.
2. WR Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss
You may be surprised to see Donte Moncrief here after he enjoyed a very productive night against Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl. The issues, though, aren't about production. They're about speed.
When scouting Moncrief, I don't see the quickness off the line that you want from a starting NFL wide receiver. That's correctable, but as a prospect it's a weakness in his game. And when we're comparing him to other players like Watkins, Brandin Cooks or Marqise Lee, it's a concern.
Moncrief has starting wide receiver size (6'3", 226 lbs.) and hands, but I need to see more speed to his game before feeling good about him as a top-65 player.
1. DE/LB Dee Ford, Auburn
Dee Ford is an exciting edge-rusher in the Auburn defensive system, but how well will that translate to the NFL? I'm moving Ford down slightly after studying the Tigers defense in preparation for the BCS National Championship Game because I see a scheme-specific pass-rusher who doesn't have the arm length or strength you want at that position.
Ford is listed at 6'2" and 240 pounds but looks a bit shorter on the field. With that size, he'll struggle to stack against offensive linemen initially but could learn to use his smaller target area as a strength. Playing low is key in the NFL, and Ford has potential, but I don't see the second-round prospect some have rated him as.
The Scout’s Report
— Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron incurred the wrath of the Twitter football gods when he reportedly elected to skip the Senior Bowl. This happens every year, but for some reason McCarron has taken heat that Geno Smith and Ryan Tannehill somehow avoided in two previous years. McCarron isn't liked by some, and they're looking for any excuse to down his stock. It could be that McCarron is nursing a minor injury, or that his agent has instructed him to not risk injury in a meaningless all-star game. The important thing to remember here is that McCarron has four years of game film at Alabama for NFL scouts to study. Three days of practices in Mobile, Ala., isn't going to change much.
— The wide receiver class is already deep, but expect it to get even deeper with underclassmen entries. I'm told that Clemson's Sammy Watkins will declare for the 2014 draft after the team's bowl game. Watkins is a top-five talent and could see himself drafted as high as No. 2 overall.
— Other junior wide receivers who may be entering the draft soon include LSU's duo of Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Both have first-round talent grades on my board heading into the offseason.
— A foot injury that plagued Jadeveon Clowney throughout the regular season has cleared up. Clowney told reporters that he will not need surgery to remove bone spurs. This is great news for his predraft workouts and marquee events like the scouting combine and his pro day.
— I mentioned defensive tackle Ego Ferguson (LSU) here last week as a name I continue to hear from NFL scouts. That was before Ferguson didn't travel with the team to the Outback Bowl and missed the team's final game of the year. Sources close to LSU told me Ferguson was academically ineligible after "blowing off" classes this semester because he "knows he's headed to the league."
— NFL Media's Gil Brandt tweeted that Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans would leave Texas A&M for the NFL draft, but neither player would give a statement following their comeback win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Update: Evans has announced his intentions officially.
— Key players who declared for the draft this week: WR Brandin Cooks (Oregon State), RB Bishop Sankey (Washington), DE George Uko (USC), TE Jace Amaro (Texas Tech), FS Calvin Pryor (Louisville), RB Kapri Bibbs (Colorado State) and WR Davante Adams (Fresno State)
— The contract extension signed by Jay Cutler points to a defense-heavy offseason for the Chicago Bears, something I predicted in my recent mock draft. Look for the Bears to focus on cornerback and defensive tackle as primary needs.
— I'm told that several University of Texas players are waiting to make their decision about the 2014 NFL draft because they want to see who the new head coach will be. The underclassman deadline is Jan. 15, so the Longhorns need to act fast if they want to help their undecided players.
A Day in the Life of an NFL Scout
Each week you’ll get a glimpse inside the life of everyone’s dream job—being an NFL scout.
The NFL regular season is over, but the men on the ground are still working like crazy. What is an NFL scout doing now that the season is over?
Area scouts and even scouting directors are spending the next two weeks getting familiar with all-star game rosters. The East-West Shrine Bowl and then the more well-known Senior Bowl come at the end of the month, and each scout must be familiar with the rosters before hitting the road.
There will be higher-level discussions about juniors and redshirt sophomores that enter the draft between now and the Jan. 15 deadline, but the road scouts are focused right now on learning as much as they can about the seniors playing in all-star games this month.
When reading a scouting report, or even just browsing Twitter during a football game, you'll see evaluators mention "COD" often. In fact, it's a go-to shorthand for me when quickly jotting down notes or hoping to stay under the 140-character limit in a tweet. But what does it mean?
Change of Direction.
When talking about a player's "COD," we're referring to his ability to change direction on the go. A wide receiver must be able to stick his foot in the ground, cut and accelerate away from defenders. On the other side of the ball, the cornerback covering that wide receiver must be able to chop his feet, sink his hips and then accelerate to keep pace with the offensive player.
Instead of writing all that, we simply write "COD" to emphasize a player's ability to change direction.
WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Few college wide receivers have the pure ability that Sammy Watkins possesses. He's well built at 6'1" and close to 210 pounds, and that frame carries muscle while remaining fast. If you're looking for the next A.J. Green- or Dez Bryant-style talent, Watkins is your man.
The Clemson offense has allowed Watkins to show off his ability as a deep threat and as an intermediate possession receiver. He's flourished as both. His speed allows him to beat defenders down the field, where he's able to accelerate or high-point passes to pull down the ball. Watkins is also tough over the middle and shows the ability to break tackles to pick up extra yards after the catch.
As a route-runner, he's shown good understanding of space, timing and how to outposition defenders for the ball. The bottom line on Watkins is that he's the most pro-ready receiver in the class and projects as an instant-impact starter.
There aren't many holes to Watkins' game. The biggest issue I see from his Clemson scheme is that he can struggle to beat press coverage at the line of scrimmage. Watkins has been able to beat defenders with his raw athleticism at the college level, but he'll need work to beat NFL-level pressure on the line.
As far as pure ability as a wide receiver, Watkins is one of the cleanest prospects you'll see. He's easily the No. 1 player at the position in this class and is a top-five player on my board.
Pro Player Comparison: A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
The Big Board
|1||Houston Texans||QB Teddy Bridgewater||Louisville|
|2||St. Louis Rams (from WAS)||WR Sammy Watkins||Clemson|
|3||Jacksonville Jaguars||QB Blake Bortles||UCF|
|4||Cleveland Browns||QB Johnny Manziel||Texas A&M|
|5||Oakland Raiders||QB Brett Hundley||UCLA|
|6||Atlanta Falcons||OT Jake Matthews||Texas A&M|
|7||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||DE Jadeveon Clowney||South Carolina|
|8||Minnesota Vikings||QB Derek Carr||Fresno State|
|9||Buffalo Bills||DE Khalil Mack||Buffalo|
|10||Detroit Lions||CB Justin Gilbert||Oklahoma St.|
|11||Tennessee Titans||DE Kony Ealy||Missouri|
|12||New York Giants||OLB Anthony Barr||UCLA|
|13||St. Louis Rams||OT Cyrus Kouandjio||Alabama|
|14||Chicago Bears||LB C.J. Mosley||Alabama|
|15||Pittsburgh Steelers||OT Greg Robinson||Auburn|
|16||Baltimore Ravens||OT Cedric Ogbuehi||Texas A&M|
|17||Dallas Cowboys||DE Benardrick McKinney||Miss. State|
|18||New York Jets||WR Mike Evans||Texas A&M|
|19||Miami Dolphins||TE Eric Ebron||North Carolina|
|20||Arizona Cardinals||OT Cameron Erving||FSU|
|21||San Diego Chargers||CB Darqueze Dennard||Michigan State|
|22||New Orleans Saints||OLB Ryan Shazier||Ohio State|
|23||Kansas City Chiefs||TE Jace Amaro||Texas Tech|
|24||San Francisco 49ers||WR Marqise Lee||USC|
|25||Green Bay Packers||FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix||Alabama|
|26||Cincinnati Bengals||CB Jason Verrett||TCU|
|27||Philadelphia Eagles||OLB Vic Beasley||Clemson|
|28||Cleveland Browns (from IND)||WR Odell Beckham||LSU|
|29||Carolina Panthers||WR Brandin Cooks||Oregon State|
|30||New England Patriots||WR Allen Robinson||Penn State|
|31||Denver Broncos||DT Louis Nix||Notre Dame|
|32||Seattle Seahawks||TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins||Washington|
Matt Miller's 7-Round Mock Draft
See the full seven-round mock draft here.
10. If you have 10 minutes, read this excellent tell-all from former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe. No matter where you stand on his social views, this is an interesting look behind the doors of an NFL locker room.
9. The trend of basketball players-turned-NFL stars is a fun one, and the next guy to watch is Bruce Ellington at South Carolina. A point guard for the Gamecocks, Ellington is a dangerous receiving prospect with a ton of upside.
8. This time of year you hear a lot about the NFL Draft Advisory Board, but what is that exactly?
The NFLDAB is a group of current and former evaluators tasked with giving assessments of where college underclassmen would be drafted if they were to enter the upcoming NFL draft. For example, redshirt sophomores and juniors would submit a request to the NFLDAB in late November and the board would send back—within a few weeks—their estimation of where that player would be drafted.
The grades given are first round, "as high as" the second round, "as high as" the third round or no round at all. So it's a bit vague in terms of actual predictions.
The NFL Draft Advisory Board is a good idea, but everyone would be foolish to put too much faith in its grades. It's important to remember that this is a collection of evaluators, but not every team is polled. That leaves a significant margin of error. For example, the DAB may give a player a third-round grade, but a good Senior Bowl could push him into the first round. It's a guide, not a definitive grade.
7. I think the tight end position is loaded at the top of the 2014 draft class. Eric Ebron (North Carolina), Jace Amaro (Texas Tech) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington) all have first-round talent. It's a good year to need a tight end.
6. If I'm Art Briles, I'm leaving Waco, Texas, for Austin, Texas, as soon as possible. The Baylor coach has hit his ceiling with the Bears. At the University of Texas, Briles could become a statewide hero with his ability as an offensive mastermind.
5. Two NFL head coaching vacancies have been filled, and so far I think both are home run hires. Bill O'Brien—formerly of the New England Patriots and Penn State—is the right coach to develop a quarterback for the Houston Texans. And in Tampa Bay, where there was talent but too much coaching dysfunction, Lovie Smith will heal the locker room.
4. I love (love, love, love) that Gus Bradley and the Jacksonville Jaguars staff will be handling the South squad of the Senior Bowl. Bradley is a coaching star-in-waiting and will get the most out of his team on the field in Mobile.
3. Two things I will not miss: the overreactions to everything Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel did on and off the field. Once in the NFL, the microscope will fade. Hopefully.
2. Speaking of Clowney, here's hoping that the South Carolina defensive end elects to work out at the NFL Scouting Combine. If he does, it'll be must-see TV as the 275-pound defender has been rumored to run a high 4.4 in the 40-yard dash.
1. I love college bowl games as much as the next guy, but remember they are just one game. A player's pro prospects cannot be built or ruined on four quarters of football. Enjoy the bowl games, but don't put more emphasis on them than you would any other performance.
Twitter Must-Follow of the Week
#Alabama DB Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is widely viewed as a lock to leave school early for the NFL Draft. One source: "He's definitely coming out."— Rand Getlin (@Rand_Getlin) January 2, 2014
@Rand_Getlin, Rand Getlin
The business side of the NFL is something that's always intrigued me, and for a lot of people, it's also a big mystery at times. That's where Rand Getlin comes into play.
A reporter and legal analyst for Yahoo!, Getlin does a great job not only covering the NFL, but he explains it in a way that us football heads can understand. Whether it's a labor lockout, player contracts or the super-secret life of an NFL agent, Getlin has the information and knowledge to keep you informed.
Who I’m Scouting This Week
With the regular season over, I'll highlight five players at whom I'm taking a look each week.
1. RB Tre Mason, Auburn
The 2014 running back class has the potential to be very talented, but we're still waiting for one player to separate himself as the top back available. Tre Mason has a chance to be that guy, and he'll have a chance to make his case against a talented Florida State defense in the BCS National Championship Game.
Mason's size, speed and vision make him an exciting prospect, and with everyone in the nation watching this one game, he's a player to focus on.
2. WR Kelvin Benjamin, FSU
The BCS National Championship Game is one of two major bowl games left, and there are plenty of players to keep an eye on when Florida State and Auburn match up. Some are more known than others, but it's the under-the-radar guys I'm watching.
Kelvin Benjamin has the size and strength to be a dominant boundary receiver, but his inconsistencies are huge. Showing up big against press coverage and some speed in the Auburn secondary will answer some questions I have about him.
3. OT Cameron Erving, FSU
There are a number of athletic pass protectors in this year's draft class, but Cameron Erving has a chance to be one of the best.
Similar to Lane Johnson from last year's class, Erving is a bit under the radar nationally but can put himself on the map with a show-stopping performance against Dee Ford and the Auburn pass rush. What I see in Erving's game film is a fluid mover with outside protection speed, but he's not been tested by someone of Ford's caliber yet.
4. OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
Alabama and Oklahoma squared off Thursday night in a game that features a ton of future NFL players. The best could be left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio from Alabama.
The big man has shown flashes of dominance, but he's also struggled to get out of his stance quickly and beat speed rushers to the corner. He'll face a talented group of Oklahoma pass-rushers that run in a complex blitz scheme. This could be Kouandjio's last game, and also one of the best films to see how he does against NFL-level schemes and talent.
5. QB AJ McCarron, Alabama
The last game of AJ McCarron's storied career will be one to watch. The Alabama quarterback is a polarizing prospect, but NFL scouts love his size, experience and winning record. What I want to see is where McCarron is in terms of velocity and deep accuracy.
The in-season footage on McCarron showed flashes of touch down the field, but never great zip or strength. I'll be charting his throws against Oklahoma to see where he grades out as a downfield thrower.